Beyond Belief

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello at 50. Who would have though it? Still, there he is, sporting a tie and a sharp suit, after all these years. Chubbier, balder and wearing glittering shoes to rival Dorothy’s over that rainbow, his growl is as fierce as ever. Behind him, the Impostors –basically the Attractions sans Bruce Thomas– keep a rock steady beat upon which the man himself’s words are flung full force into the void and driven home on jackhammer rhythms.

The audience is in fact comprised of all ages. Obviously, the greater part is pushing middle age themselves, but there is a great range, even down to those barely old enough to drink. It looks strange, and yet it’s like seeing myself ten years ago. Curious and reverent in equal measures, knowing we are about to see a legend. Of course, I’m too cool to let on, but inside I am giddy and excited and I don’t want to go to Chelsea. So much for aging gracefully.

Costello comes on stage to face a very enthusiastic crowd, and rips through nearly three hours of music, being called back three or four times. Having such a huge back catalogue means that your chances of hearing at least a few of your favourites is there. Still, it also means that you hear a lot more you’re not very familiar with. As befits a still-active artist, Costello is not content to simply run through a rehash of old hits and faves; he has a new album out and he’s touring the bastard! And boy, does he ever! His new stuff sounds good, almost as good as the old. The reason it’s harder to completely embrace it, I think, is that it hasn’t had time to grow on you. It’s also odd to think how times have changed. His new songs are hard-edged, angry and focused; they also sound as if they are cut from the same cloth of anger and spite that Costello had at his disposal thirty years ago. And yet, for all of this feeling of plus ca change, they sound nothing like what you hear on the radio these days. There are no angry ot suspicious songs anymore –there is only unfocused angst, suburban dirges of irrelevant solipsism, the old sound and fury signifying fuck all. The feeling of attacking an identifiable enemy, be it the government or the old girlfriend, is gone. How can we not love him? He is the angry geek done good. Had he been born ten years later, this former programmmer would probably be running Silicone Valley. What a loss that would have been.

The eloquence, the word games that may or may not mean anything (nobody sane has ever had the balls to claim they know what a Costello album is about), the focus and verve: all this makes it so abundantly clear that there is a mature person up on stage. I find it hard to believe that the Costello that started out (around the same time I was born), had – indeed could have – the warmth about his eyes the way this year’s model does. For better or worse, Costello has grown up; his craft has grown with him and maybbe that’s another reason his material seems slightly paler in comparison: he knows there is more to be explored elsewhere . God knows, and I’m probably talking through my arse here, trying to justify my not buying his new albums. (Hey, I still don’t have all the classics) Costello has stayed vital. Relevant is a different matter, though; as mentioned above, Costello sounds like nothing on the radio and in this day and age, is he relevant? I’d wager to say yes; a song like Radio, Radio in the days of Fox news is sharper than ever. Oliver’s Army went to Iraq instead, the Goon Squad took over the white house and hey: what really is so funny about peace, love & understanding?

I suppose this is not a very good review of the concert itself, but what the hell: I was there, you were most likely not and that’s how it is. It was cold outside, it was hot inside and we all felt like we’d been bowled over. The faces of the crowd as we made our way to the exits were beatific, perhaps the wrong state to find oneself in after seeing Elvis Costello, but neverthless: we saw God. And he was one of us.

23.01.2005 • Permalink

Azumi

Ryuhei Kitamura’s sophomore effort contains two of the greatest scenes in recent action movie-dom: 1) a teenage girl charging an army of 200 – and winning! – and 2) one of the most memorable decapitations of the “oh, wait, I just got nick…hiiissssss” sort. Yes, I know it doesn’t work like that, but dammit: it should.

Based on a popular Manga, Azumi doesn’t quite shake its pulp roots, but this probably stems more from Kitamura’s direction than the story itself. The kinetic overload of Versus is pared down as the plot takes on a bigger scope, but a few unfortunate directorial decisions throw off the pace every now and then. To wit: a random fight scene takes on Crouching Tiger-type wire-work and weird sound effects, while another throws in a Tex Avery-like anomaly in an otherwise straight battle scene; both scenes are jarring, but this is a minor complaint.

The lead is pretty dull, I have to admit. I gather she’s a pop star in her native Japan, but she’s not terribly interesting. Then again, it’s not like you have to wait very long for a fight scene to move things along, so who’s complaining?


  • Director: Ruyhei Kitamura
  • Cast: Aya Ueto, Kenji Kohashi, Hiroki Narimiya, Takatoshi Kaneko
12.01.2005 • Permalink

Rust in Piece

Poor old Dave Mustaine. In 1982, he was unceremoniously booted out of his first band for excessive drinking and drug abuse. He was furious, and got his act together, at least enough to start Megadeth; one of the seminal trash-metal bands, they quickly climbed to the pantheon of gods of such matters. His achievements were impressive, yet it was as much to get back at his old bandmates as for his own glory. After conquering the world, selling millions of albums and being hailed as one of the great innovators of the genre, one could forgive his former band for regretting his termination — unless, of course, that band happens to be Metallica.

In the recent Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster, Mustaine admits that being booted out of that band was the worst day of his life. But, to be quite honest, I can’t say that I’m too broken up over dave’s predicament. After all, there’s nothing that says the sum of these parts would have amounted to something greater than the sum of what we already had. And let’s face it, if Mustaine was still with them rather than in Megadeth, we the public would likely have been cheated of both Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction. And that, dear reader, would be a loss: It’s difficult for me to verbalize exactly what it is about Rust that I find appealing, but I suppose that to summarize, I could say: Holy flippin’ fuck!!!

The first time I heard Holy Wars, I was bowled over. I mean, holy Christ, what was that?! The cascading guitars, the thundering drums and Mustaine’s pained yelping over it all — this was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was great. Unlike most of their peers, Megadeth always seemed to have sly sense of humour about them, as if they knew it was partly a joke. Hangar 18, whilst also swirling like a dervish (I’m told dervishes swirl) also deftly anticipates the X-files, with its space ships and hidden fortresses. One supposes that the lyrics as such is unimportant — the skill on display renders lyrical shortcomings irrelevant anyway — also, Mustaine is too smart a guy — and too funny — to really take this stuff all that seriously.

Thrash metal mostly did away with ghost n’ goblins and all that fairy bollocks that thanks to the hippies were the lyrical pinnacle, (At least until Limp Bizkit came around and it was all suburban angst, all the time.) and Mustaine always did have a knack for a political lyric. I won’t claim he’s written great poetry, but still: Bob Dylan wrote his share of clunkers, and given the choice, I’d go for this sort of technicolour extravaganza over early Dylan monochrome dirges most days. Mustaine sings lines like “Don’t look now/to Israel/it might be your homeland” with an urgency that belies the sometimes clumsy lyrics. And a line like “They killed my wife and my baby/first mistake/last mistake” is more clever than one surmises at first look. Mustaine is ppresumably singing about the Palestine/Israeli conflict (Nutshell problem: They’re all nuts. Quick solution: Fence ’em all in, let them fight amongst themselves and leave the rest of us out of it) in a clever way. He neglects to state who’s singing, it could be from either side. While deep analysis of the lyrics might ot yield too much, Mustaine deserves credit for trying to say something more than the usual crap: Hell, lines like “Don’t ask/what you can do/for your country/ASK/what your country/can do for yoooouuu” are priceless. Dave Mustaine, nihilist, flying a bright red flag.

Lyrically, it doesn’t really matter. Sophomoric, yes, but as stated, the music is what it’s all about. Thrash metal does not have trappings in which it’s easy to do anything interesting except play really, really fast. Rust In Peace is such a great album because it is unflappably melodic, heavier than a lead enema and faster than the roadrunner on speed. But the fact that the melodicism is so effortless within this sort of grind is nothing short of spectacular.

The line-up of Dave Mustaine (guitar), Nick Menza (drums), David Ellefson (bass) and Marty Friedman (guitar/big hair) is considered THE Megadeth line-up by most, and it’s not difficult to understand why. We have here the four virtuosi of the apocalypse, and it certainly sounds like it. Weird time signatures, changes in pace, and layered solos that almost reminds me of — dare I say it? — jazz. More precise than laser-guided missile and tighter than a chickens bum, very little can measure up to this.

Megadeth recently came to an end when Dave Mustaine sustained injuries in his hand. It was unclear whether or not he would ever play again, but he’s nothing if not a survivor (the guy’s even been clinically dead! Not one to do anything by halves, he fell off the wagon with a vengeance and died. Obviously, they revived him.). After some pretty extensive surgery and retraining, he apparently can play again. Sadly, Megadeth are to remain a closed chapter. Still, it was fun when it lasted.

UPDATE: Megadeth are back on the road.

07.01.2005 • Permalink